Coyotes to play at Mullett Arena next season, remain ‘committed’ to Arizona

The Coyotes thanked those who voted yes and said the future of the team is to be determined.
Published: May. 16, 2023 at 7:38 AM MST|Updated: May. 17, 2023 at 8:35 PM MST
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TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- The Arizona Coyotes will play in Tempe next season and are working to stay in Arizona. According to a statement released Wednesday evening, Coyotes president and CEO Xavier A. Guiterrez said the franchise will play at Mullett Arena for the 2023-2024 season and “remain committed to Arizona.” He said the Coyotes have started reengaging with officials and looking at sites for a permanent home in the Valley.

Next season is the second year of a three-year agreement to play at Mullett Arena, Arizona State University’s hockey arena. Playing at such a small arena hurts the overall league revenue, and the Mullett, while nice, is not up to NHL standards.

Breakdown on voter turnout

Tempe voters overwhelmingly rejected the Coyotes’ proposed $2.1 billion entertainment district and arena. Arizona’s Family spoke with Sam Almy, a data analyst with Uplift Campaigns. It’s an organization that tracks early voting trends across Arizona. They broke down the early voting numbers in this special election. “Under 35 years old, it was about 12 to 13 percent turn out, where 65+ was closer to 63 percent turn out,” Almy said.

He says more than 50 percent of votes came from people who didn’t live directly near the proposed site. “South Tempe Legislative District 12 made up about 52 to 54 percent of all early returns,” he said. District 12 is south of the US 60.

There have been a lot of passionate opinions surrounding the project from many people in Tempe leading up to the vote, and Almy says the numbers truly showed that. “By day 14 of early voting, over half of the ballots had already been cast,” he said. “Going into election night, it was a 31% turnout which I think is the second highest for Tempe in a municipal election.”

He also says there weren’t a ton of new voters. According to their data, nearly 70 percent were what experts call ‘three of three’ voters. These people have voted in all three of the previous municipal elections. The Coyotes’ internal polling showed the three propositions related to the arena would pass easily, but voters had other ideas.

Tuesday’s reaction to the results

The Coyotes released a statement following the results, thanking those who voted yes and saying the future of the team is to be determined.

The City of Tempe also released a statement, thanking voters and saying it’s time to move forward following the decision. “Tempe voters have spoken and we respect their voices. Our unanimous vote in November 2022 to move the Tempe Entertainment District forward, after months of due diligence and negotiations, showed our enthusiasm for this project and our belief that it was in the best interests of the community. Enough residents did not share our view, and we accept this result,” the statement read. “The Arizona Coyotes have been good partners in this effort. We believe Alex Meruelo, Xavier Gutierrez, and the whole organization have put forward their best for our community and for this proposal [...] This fall, we will offer public input opportunities to begin creating a path forward for this important property.”

Tempe 1st, a group against the project, tweeted in support of the rejection and thanked voters. “It’s official. We protected Tempe,” the group tweeted. One voter against the project shared her thoughts about the vote. “I’m really grateful the people came out and make their voices heard. Residents like me were able to turn out and talk to voters and make sure their voices were heard, and community members were heard, and that everybody got out and voted,” said Hayley Robinson.

“The National Hockey League is terribly disappointed by the results of the public referendum regarding the Coyotes’ arena project in Tempe,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “We are going to review with the Coyotes what the options might be going forward.”

The Coyotes’ vision for the area

The sports complex was proposed to be built on 46 acres of land that are currently used as a landfill near Rio Salado Parkway and Priest Drive. However, the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor International Airport expressed concerns about the residences that would be built as part of the project in the high-noise area under the airport’s flight path. Some of the project was slated to be built less than two miles from the airport runway. Lawyers for Phoenix previously said the two cities signed an agreement in 1994, prohibiting homes from being built under the flight path.

Supporters say the project would have brought roughly 7,000 jobs. But critics like Tempe business owner Gayle Shanks worry the deal will impact the cost of living. “I have serious concerns of many aspects of this project,” she said. “It’s not going to bring affordable housing which is something we need here in Tempe.” Others worried about the amount of tax breaks the developer is receiving for the arena, but Coyotes President and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said the project would be financed through private funds. Developers would pay no property taxes on the buildings for 30 years.

If the arena was built, the Coyotes would finally be able to settle down after playing in three different venues since moving to Arizona. The franchise shared a downtown Phoenix arena with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns after relocating from Winnipeg in 1996 then moved to Glendale’s Gila River Arena in 2003. But the Coyotes’ had a troubled tenure in the Phoenix suburb. Then-owner Jerry Moyes took the Coyotes into bankruptcy in 2009 and Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie put in a bid to purchase the team with the intention of moving it to Hamilton, Ontario. The NHL, wanting to keep the team in Arizona, put in a counter bid, and a Phoenix judge ruled the team could not be sold to Balsillie to circumvent the NHL’s relocation rules.

The NHL ran the Coyotes for four seasons and the financial constraints took a toll, leading in part to a seven-year playoff drought. A new ownership group brought new hope in 2013 but turmoil surfaced again in 2015 when the city of Glendale backed out of a long-term, multimillion-dollar lease agreement. The Coyotes then leased Gila River Arena on an annual basis until Glendale announced it was terminating the deal after the 2021-22 season.

The franchise found a temporary solution, working out a deal to share Arizona State’s Mullett Arena for three seasons. The Mullett has a capacity of 5,000 and is by far the smallest home arena in the NHL.

The Coyotes submitted a bid to buy a tract of land in Tempe and the Tempe City Council voted to begin negotiating on a new entertainment district. The City Council later voted to send the project to a public vote. The Coyotes thought they were in good standing with the city of Phoenix and Sky Harbor before a legal filing in March sought to rescind Tempe’s recent zoning and land-use changes.

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